Coping With Cancer: The Diagnosis

Guest contributor Margaret Nyman takes us step by step through her husband Nate’s 42 days of pancreatic cancer. She’ll describe the shock of discovery, the gathering of their seven children, the unstoppable disease and the emotional days leading up to the moment when he passed away.

Cancer! (9/27/09)

It’s been five days since we heard the dreadful news, and we are just beginning to come up for air.

During that first conversation with several doctors at Rush, in just a few excruciating minutes, Nate and I found ourselves tangled in a web of horrifying words we didn’t expect: pancreatic cancer, inoperable, metastasized, stage four, terminal. And every word was referring to my husband’s body.

“Stunned” doesn’t explain our response. “Crushed” is better. “Devastated” is accurate.

The doctor was backed by six others in the room, all eyes fixed on us. When he paused to let us respond, I spoke first. Trying to banish their words from the room, I said, “But we only came for surgery on his back! He doesn’t have any other symptoms! We don’t know anything about any of this!” As my voice got louder and began to crack, Nate reached for my hand.

We had known about his back pain and the stenosis, bulging disks, arthritis and spurs causing it. Having made the rounds to several doctors, we’d settled on “the best in the country” at Rush University Medical Center and signed up for spine surgery to take place on September 28. In Nate’s routine pre-op physical, multiple red flags popped up. Two short weeks after that, we were sitting in a hospital conference room surrounded by learned doctors, being assaulted with unwanted words.

Today, five days later, we are still reeling but are no longer screaming inside. Our family is gathering. We all agree on how we want to spend our time. Love and support is pouring in from all directions, some quite unexpected and each effort precious to us.

I plan to use this blog to keep interested parties informed about Nate while the clock ticks and the days pass. As we begin putting one foot in front of the other to plod into this foreign land, we’ll let you know how things are going. We believe God has traveled ahead of us and now stretches out his hand to say, “Over here now. Follow me. It’s all going to utterly amaze you, and I can’t wait to show you.”

And so with tears streaming down our faces making it hard to see, we follow.

Margaret Nyman’s personal blog is at

Getting a Second Opinion

By Judy Germany

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you may want to get a second opinion from another specialist before you begin treatment. A second opinion is an especially good idea if you feel uncertain about the proposed treatment or you think your doctor underestimates the seriousness of your illness.

Even if you like your doctor and trust his or her treatment plan, you should still consider getting another opinion — not only to confirm the cancer diagnosis but, more important, to make sure you learn about every available treatment. In fact, many patients who get second opinions end up staying with the doctor who diagnosed or initially treated them, but talking to another specialist can empower you to make decisions based on fully understanding all of your options.

The following tips will help guide you through this important process:

Getting Started

  • Begin by telling your doctor that you want to get a second opinion. Cancer patients commonly seek a second opinion and some health plans actually require one, especially when a doctor recommends surgery or an experimental therapy. But some people may not feel comfortable talking to their doctor about getting another opinion. To make discussing the issue easier, tell your doctor that you are satisfied with his or her treatment plan and care, but that you want to ensure you are thoroughly informed about all available cancer treatment options. It may help to bring a family member or friend along for support when you have the conversation.
  • Ask your doctor for copies of your medical records, original x-rays, lab and test results so you can take them with you on your first visit for a second opinion. You can also have the new doctor’s office request your records from your primary doctor if that is more convenient. It’s a good idea to request copies of your medical records even if you don’t plan to seek a second opinion, in case of an emergency. Your doctor’s office may charge a small fee to copy the records. Continue reading